Office politics, workplace politics, corporate politics…you may refer to ‘politics at work’ by a different name, but by definition, they all mean the same thing.
And whether you’re playing it, trying to avoid it or currently on the receiving end of it, all parties involved become distracted and lose sight of the common goal and purpose which brought you all together in the first place.
So how would I define office politics?
It’s the backstabbing of your boss or colleague.
The sabotage of your work.
Taking credit for your work.
Undermining of your authority.
Or simply it’s the conversations taking place behind your back.
I’ve no doubt we’ve all personally experienced it or witnessed it at some point in our career. And we’re not the only ones.
According to research from recruiter Adecco, one third (33%) of UK workers cite office politics as a significant contributing factor to feelings of unhappiness in the workplace, and such negative emotions are having a substantial impact on people’s working lives. Nearly a third (29%) of UK workers spend every Sunday dreading the coming working week, and a worrying 28% of workers admit that they fear going into work so much that they have called in sick.
What everyone should know about office politics
So, here’s my take on what should you know about office politics and more importantly, how to deal with office politics.
#1 Business is tough enough
The external market place and the business arena are continually changing, and as we know, the old rule book no longer applies. Changing dynamics in competitors; the digital revolution, new regulatory frameworks supported by new legislation (the list could go on) means business is tough enough, and that’s just looking through our external lens.
If you’re distracted by internal fighting, you lose sight of your common goal and purpose. If the leadership team or department heads or those involved in office politics are not on page, what chance do your employees, customers, strategic partners or critical stakeholder groups have in understanding what you stand for? You’ve taken your eye off the ball, and I can guarantee you, your competitors haven’t.
If everyone is aligned behind a common goal and purpose, you can move mountains. In good times it can focus the business, reinforcing the aim and ambition; in touch times, it offers an inspirational focal point to keep pushing on, in the knowledge that together you’re pursuing a goal worth achieving.
#2 Empire building is short-sighted
Often office politics comes down to a leader building their empire and doing what it takes to make this happen. The Head of Marketing may be a wizard at his or her craft and produce high volumes of excellent work, but if he or she isn’t aligned to the needs of the sales force, it will ultimately work against them, rather than for them. If the Head of Operations has an excellent eye for back-end processing systems but fails to brief the customer service teams, the same thing applies.
Have you ever heard the saying ‘If you give someone enough rope, they’ll hang themselves’? If someone has the freedom to misbehave, he or she will eventually be found out. Either by their own doing or indeed by the output of their doing. This might mean you need to play the long game, but having in place robust governance and policies, key performance indicators and performance objectives will make it difficult for politically inspired decisions.
#3 The cultural impact from office politics is tangible
Culture is the central nervous system for your entire organisation. It sets the beliefs, attitude and values for all those working there. If workplace politics are rife and deemed as the norm, then it may directly come down to a cultural fit. And this culture might not be right for you. So my advice, make a sharp exit as it won’t change any time soon.
If on the hand, the organisation’s culture is undermined by a handful of perpetrators then in my view, this has the most significant impact of all. Not least to the parties directly involved, but on a broader scale as employees, not directly impacted, stand back, observe the actions and wait to see the consequences.
If politically driven behaviours which are not congruent with the organisation’s culture are managed, then all is good in the world. The challenge occurs when these types of de-railing behaviours are not controlled. The central nervous system of any organisation is its culture, and the ramifications with not dealing with this type of toxic culture can be far-reaching; reduced morale, demotivated employees, decrease in productivity, employee attrition, you get my point.
#4 The emotional vacuum is real
Being on the receiving end of office politics can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, anger, resentment. While this emotional vacuum is gradual, it is genuine. Adecco’s research cited an additional third of UK workers (36%) would consider leaving their employer due to such severe anxiety and more worryingly, one in ten (9%) have already taken that step due to such overwhelming feelings of unhappiness.
Once you acknowledge your emotional wellbeing is on an equal footing to your capability to perform your role, you understand it’s the energy source powering your performance. When it’s low, your performance is low.
So what do you do?
You dig down and dig deep. The reality is sometimes in life you don’t realise how much resilience you have until you are tested. There are many arguments as to what makes one individual more resilient than the next, and in my experience, it comes down to three key ingredients; a unique ability to confront reality head-on, an unwavering belief that life is purposeful and an uncanny ability to improvise and adapt.
Boosting your resilience will help you navigate the political arena before it spirals out of control.
Office politics ultimately benefits no-one. Even the individual who thinks they are benefitting.
The power is in the ‘whole’ aligned and working together towards building a high performing organisation.